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UC Votes to Appoint Director of Belonging and Inclusion

A Conversation with Sruthi and Julia
Sruthi Palaniappan '20 and Julia M. Huesa '20, President and Vice President of the Undergraduate Council

The Undergraduate Council voted to create a director of belonging and inclusion position at its first general meeting of the year Sunday.

The Director of Belonging and Inclusion — to be chosen from among current UC members — will oversee the caucus system and research inclusion within the Council and peer schools’ student governments. The director will also advise the UC as a non-voting member of the Executive Board, a group comprising the Council’s top leadership.

Eliot House Representative Maxwell A. Gillmer ’21, President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20, and Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 proposed the new position. The Council voted 22-3-5 to amend its bylaws to create the new role.

All UC representatives will be eligible to apply for the position. The president and vice president will select a candidate, who will need to be confirmed by a majority vote of the 13-person Executive Board.

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Gillmer said he supported creating the role because groups like the Harvard Graduate Council and the Institute of Politics have similar positions that promote diversity and inclusion within their bodies.

“We, as a governing body, need to keep up with not only the other governing bodies of other schools, but also what the campus is prioritizing,” Gillmer said.

Palaniappan said she supported the new position because internal research from recent years showed women did not feel the same level of inclusion on all UC committees.

Not all representatives, however, said they think the new position will effectively improve inclusion and belonging on the Council.

Oak Yard Representative A. Blake Barclay ’22, who opposed the creation of the new position, said he believes it will place the Executive Board’s shared responsibility of promoting diversity on one individual. He said he thinks the new role will divide communities instead of uniting them.

“A lot of times, we create these positions to focus on committees we feel are not inclusive enough,” Barclay said. “All that does is further distinguish between the communities that we have together and make it less cohesive by kind of saying that you need additional help to be integrated into our community.”

Elm Yard Representative Michael Y. Cheng ’22 said he thinks other methods — such as advertising or changing the UC election process — may be more effective in increasing representation on the Council. He said he is concerned the new position will not “meaningfully increase the representation of” communities historically marginalized on the UC.

“I’m afraid that it might be a feel-good position,” he said.

Huesa, in contrast, said she believes the position will not be purely symbolic, but she also argued symbolism is important in efforts to include diverse communities in the UC.

“I think the fact that we have a director of belonging and inclusion will also incentivize marginalized communities to think, ‘This is a space where I can be a part of,’” she said. “The fact the UC didn't previously have a director of belonging and inclusion might have also contributed to the fact that it might seem like an institution that only powerful white men are a part of.”

Other representatives said they think the new director’s role will demonstrate to the student body that the Council cares about promoting diversity.

“I think this is one of the best pieces of legislation that I’ve seen been passed on the UC during my time here,” Leverett House Representative Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 said. “Having been the only black female to have served on the Council in the past two years, there have been times when I felt like my voice has been silenced, or I haven’t been able to speak up for fear that it would be a direct reflection on my community.”

“When there’s not a diverse enough set of females in this type of arena, it becomes a bunch of men making decisions for us, which isn’t necessarily fair,” she added.

Palaniappan and Huesa also co-sponsored a constitutional amendment at Sunday’s meeting to restructure committees in the Council. Their proposal, if confirmed, would reduce the number of standing committees from six to five and would redistribute responsibilities among them.

The amendment would dissolve the Student Life, Student Initiatives, and Student Relations committees and divide their responsibilities among the current standing committees — Finance, Education, and First-Year Class — as well as among two proposed committees, Health, Safety & Wellness and Social & Residential Life.

Because the UC did not have a quorum present at Sunday’s meeting, representatives chose to postpone the vote on the amendment to the Feb. 10 general meeting.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Laura C. Espinoza can be reached at laura.espinoza@thecrimson.com.

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